The CPA's Complete Guide to CPE Requirements

July 22, 2020

You’ve passed your CPA exam and have completed the required experience to become one of more than 654,375 people licensed as CPAs by a state board of accountancy. You’re working as a CPA and gaining experience every day. What’s next? 

Your state board of accountancy has requirements for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) that you will need to meet in order to renew your license. These requirements have to be met within a period of time, anywhere from annually to every 3 years. 

Keeping up with your CPE requirements can be a challenge as you work full- or part-time, so we’ve tried to simplify the general requirements for different states along with links to deeper resources you might need. 

Keep reading to see what the general rules and requirements are for CPE, how many education hours you may need to complete to keep your CPA license in good standing with your state board of accountancy, and how often you’re required to complete these courses.

What Is CPE?

Continuing Professional Education (CPE) is an education requirement put in place by each state’s board of accountancy that is responsible for CPA licensing. CPE serves to keep Certified Public Accountants up to date on the latest industry rules and state regulations related to accounting. 

As a CPA, continuing education gives you an opportunity to further your professional development, enables you to better serve your clients, and helps you maintain your skill set over time. 

Keeping up with your CPE courses and requirements can be a hassle while you’re working full or part-time, but by knowing what your required number of course hours are, you can plan for it and work the courses into your schedule at your convenience over time. 

Let’s look at how many CPE hours you may need to renew your license.

How Many CPE Hours Are Required?

Every state has different requirements for the number of CPE hours required to keep your CPA license in good standing and avoid fees and fines. At this time, only one state (Wisconsin) does not require any CPE hours for license renewal. 

Almost every state’s required CPE hours average to 40 hours per year. Some states require that you complete 40 hours annually and others require that you complete 80 hours within a 2-year period.  

In the state of New York, there is an exception to completing the typical 40 hours of CPE annually. You can choose instead to take 24 hours of CPE in a single subject area that the New York State Board of Public Accountancy defines (Accounting, auditing, attestation, taxation, advisory services, specialized knowledge and applications related to specialized industries, or professional ethics). 

The most CPE hours required in any state is 120 hours, but all states with this high requirement allow a 3-year period for the courses to be completed within. These 19 states include:

  • Illinois

  • Indiana

  • Iowa

  • Minnesota

  • Missouri

  • Montana

  • New Hampshire

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • North Dakota

  • Ohio

  • Oklahoma

  • Rhode Island

  • South Dakota

  • Texas

  • Virginia

  • Washington

  • West Virginia

  • Wyoming

While 120 hours in continuing education courses may seem overwhelming, the 3-year requirement means you can complete 40 course hours each year. Overall, nearly every states’ requirements (with the exception of Wisconsin and New York) require 40 CPE hours each year.  

Can I Complete CPE Courses Virtually?

Taking CPE courses online is the preferred option for many busy CPAs. Instead of commuting to and from a classroom on scheduled days, you can take courses online any time you have the availability. 

Online CPE courses range in price from free up to about $125 for bundled courses that satisfy more of your CPE hour requirements. Search the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy course library to see some of your virtual CPE course options. 

Make sure to look for the seal of NASBA approval when browsing courses online through third-party institutions. The seal is the National Registry of CPE Sponsors’ logo. When you see this logo on any CPE course, you’ll know it’s NASBA-approved and will count toward your required CPE credits. 

How Often Are CPE Courses Required? 

CPE courses must be taken within a state-specified time period that sometimes, but not always, coincides with the license renewal period. In many states, your continuing education proof can be reported anytime during the year. 

Some states require that you complete a percentage of your CPE courses within a certain time period. For example, Colorado requires that you complete 50% (or 40 hours) of your total, biennially required 80 hours of CPE courses each year. These requirements make it essential to plan your continuing education courses ahead of time so you’ll have the correct number of hours completed in the right time period. 

How Much Are CPE Courses?

CPE courses can be taken online or in a classroom setting, but CPE credits can also be earned by attending conferences and workshops with relevant subject matter (with approval from your state board). The price of these courses varies widely, but because many CPAs choose to take online courses for their convenience and ease of use, we’ll focus on the cost of online courses here. 

Free CPE Courses

If you are diligent about searching, you can find some free CPE courses online. The Corporate Finance Institute is one example. They offer several paid, but some free, courses that count as CPE credit. CFI’s courses are approved by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). Free courses include: 

  • Excel Cash Course

  • Fixed Income Fundamentals

  • Introduction to Corporate Finance

The American Institute of CPAs offers several free, approved online CPE courses. Visit their website store and search “Free CPE” in the search bar to find a full list of currently offered free courses. Current free courses include:

  • How Corporate Culture Can Breed Fraud If Left Unchecked

  • Building a Fraud Resistant Organization

  • Your Role in Sustaining a Culture That Deters Fraud

CPEThink offers free CPE courses that are also NASBA approved. Right now, you can access any of 5 free courses on the website. They also offer paid online courses that allow you to print your CPE certificate for your records. 

Paid CPE Courses

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of online education facilities where you can find paid CPE courses that will satisfy your states’ requirements. These courses range in price from about $19.95 up to $125, depending on the course sponsor or school and course or package you select. 

Consider that most states require you to take at least 40 hours of continuing education each year. Your total annual cost for continuing education could range from $800 up to $5,000. 

Keep in mind that higher priced courses are typically a bundle with several course hours. You wouldn’t pay $125 for a one-hour course, but you may pay for a group of 30 hours bundled into one course. 

On average, expect to pay about $1,000 for your continuing education courses each year. 

Check out these NASBA approved CPE course providers:

Other Considerations

Earning your CPA license comes with many responsibilities including ethics, accuracy, integrity, and objectivity, but earning your required CPE course hours should also be a priority. Click here to view state-specific information for CPE requirements so you can plan your courses alongside your work as an accountant. 

Remember to make sure that any CPE course you sign up for is approved by NASBA. You can click here to search the database for your course sponsor to make sure your credits will be accepted.

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